U.S. Corporations in Myanmar Asked to Come Clean

June 28, 2016

Villagers shout slogans as they protest against a Chinese-backed copper mine project, in Monywa northern Myanmar on March 13, 2013.  Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged protesters on March 13 to accept a controversial Chinese-backed mine that was the scene of a violent crackdown last year, or risk hurting the economy.   AFP PHOTO/ Soe Than WIN        (Photo credit should read Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Villagers shout slogans as they protest against a copper mine project, in Monywa northern Myanmar (Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images)

By Larry Dohrs and Simon Billenness, Business and Human Rights Group, Amnesty International USA

For many people around the world, their most direct contact with the United States is through the operations of American corporations. So it is in our interest that these companies respect human rights, generating good will towards the United States and its people.

It is this principle that underlies the State Department Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma that require U.S. companies to report on their impact on human rights. Burma (Myanmar) is a strategically located country of 53 million people, slowly emerging from decades of brutal and venal military dictatorship. While much progress has been made, the army continues to be responsible for widespread abuses of human rights violations, often in regions populated by ethnic minorities and frequently related to the business of resource extraction. Amnesty International highlighted an example of this in our February 2015 report “Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine.”

Established in 2013, the State Department Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma have been an effective tool to encourage companies to develop policies and procedures to avoid the enormous reputational risk of being linked to human rights abuses.

Several U.S. companies have already submitted reports, demonstrating due diligence for human rights. But that hasn’t prevented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from publicly calling for the Reporting Requirements to be watered down or eliminated completely, as EarthRights International has reported.

Perhaps in response to this corporate lobbying, the U.S. State Department has recently proposed raising the investment threshold above which a US company must report by 1000%, from $500,000 to $5 million. This is a huge step backwards and undermines the effectiveness of this important tool.

Consequently on June 16, Amnesty International USA, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, and the US Campaign for Burma submitted a joint letter to Sec. of State John Kerry, arguing against this shocking change.

Amnesty International works hard to hold corporations accountable to human rights and the Reporting Requirements are a welcome tool to achieve that aim. Amnesty International will continue to resist any changes that would undermine them. Watch this space.